August 27, 2007

To boldly go …

Filed under: bsd,thetao — SiKing @ 10:34 am


So at work, they have this negative attitude toward anything not-Windows on the desktop. Since we all have admin access to our own machines, several geeks here have installed Linux on their box. I have dabbled in this also, but since I am the only one that has managed to scrounge up a second physical machine and leave my primary one in a state that is still completely supported by our IT – that is running Windows – I did not really have the proper encouragement to get my Linux box fully working and more importantly keep it that way. It basically became my play machine. Well, apparently installing Gentoo wasn’t enough of a challenge for me, or maybe because I always have this thing about rooting for the underdog, or maybe a good friend of mine had just too much influence on me, I decided to go BSD! However, this time I have a purpose in mind.

I’m gonna test-drive several BSD distros, give each one about a week, and see if I could do all my work (like work-work) on it. I have some criteria, none of which is unreasonable I think, that must be met:

  1. Easy installer – From my Gentoo experience, I decided that I am just too lazy to install stuff by hand through the command line. The installer does not need to be graphical, but it does need to be intuitive and easy to follow without the use of a printed manual.
  2. Easy package management – See #1.
  3. Supported software – Primarily this is going to be a work machine, so it must have all the basic UNIX things that I use: ssh, cvs, bash, awk, grep, etc., etc., etc. all of which should be a no brainer for BSD. But, I also need to have: Thunderbird, Firefox,, something for chat that can connect to the Y!Chat network, and something (simple) to play music on.
  4. Browse Windows shares – Yes, I do need to get stuff off my and several other Windows boxes, and I do not want to need to resort to ftp, scp, or such.
  5. Support for USB devices – While this is not a KO criteria, it would be really nice. The first one is a Nokia N91 – only in the mass storage mode, I do not realistically expect to have support for the other two modes. The second is my Seagate external drive that currently has two partitions: first one is ext3, and the second one is fat32.
  6. Printing – Everything that I have access to right now, is on a Windows network.
  7. Anything else is (appreciated) brownie points.

I am going to be testing this on thetao, which is an Intel D815EEA motherboard with a P3 processor – nothing fancy, and fairly ancient by today’s standards.

The players

A quick search at turns up 12 BSD-based active distros. I have sorted them like so:

  • The big three: FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD. While I have the utmost respect for these players, from my (admittedly limited) knowledge, they are mainly aimed at the server market. I will therefore not be looking at these specifically. Well, maybe later…
  • Server systems: m0n0wall, pfSense. These distros are self-described as aimed at the server market also. Again, I will not be looking at these.
  • Live CDs: FreeSBIE, OliveBSD. These distros are primarily meant as a live CD. I am looking for a desktop system, so maybe as a last resort…
  • That leaves under consideration: DesktopBSD, DragonFly BSD, MidnightBSD, MirOS Project, and PC-BSD.

I am not going to resort to childish things like “Windows does it, so why can’t you,” but I will admit that my judgment may be skewed by my experience with Knoppix. The ultimate achievement of this exercise would be for one of these to blow me away so much so, that it will actually become my desktop of choice even at home.


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